Shred guitar

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Joe Satriani, Steve Vai & John Petrucci at the G3 (tour) in December 2006 G3 - Joe Satriani, Steve Vai & John Petrucci.jpg
Joe Satriani, Steve Vai & John Petrucci at the G3 (tour) in December 2006

Shred guitar or shredding is a virtuoso lead guitar solo playing style for the guitar, based on various advanced and complex playing techniques, particularly rapid passages and advanced performance effects. Shred guitar includes "fast alternate picking, sweep-picked arpeggios, diminished and harmonic scales, finger-tapping and whammy-bar abuse", [1] It is commonly used in heavy metal guitar playing, where guitarists use the electric guitar with a guitar amplifier and a range of electronic effects such as distortion, which create a more sustained guitar tone and facilitate guitar feedback effects.


The term is sometimes used with reference to virtuoso playing by instrumentalists other than guitarists, as well. The term "shred" is also used outside the metal idiom, particularly in bluegrass musicians and jazz-rock fusion electric guitarists.


Many jazz guitarists in the 1950s such as Les Paul, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow improvised various guitar techniques comparing to contemporaries blues guitarists like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly. [2] Les Paul's song, "How High the Moon" contained sweep picking, one of the earliest recordings of the technique.

Ronnie James Dio and Ritchie Blackmore in Norway, 1977 Rainbow in performance (27 09 1977 02 500b).jpg
Ronnie James Dio and Ritchie Blackmore in Norway, 1977

Ritchie Blackmore, best known as the guitarist of Deep Purple and Rainbow, was an early shredder. He founded Deep Purple in 1968 and combined elements of blues, jazz and classical into his high speed, virtuostic rock guitar playing. Songs like "Highway Star" and "Burn" from Deep Purple and "Gates of Babylon" from Rainbow are examples of early shred. Blackmore separated himself from the pack with his use of complex arpeggios and harmonic minor scales. His influence on Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen was definitive for the evolution of the genre. [3]

In 1969, guitarist Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin composed "Heartbreaker"; his guitar solo introduced many complex techniques mixed together (very fast note playing with hammer-ons and pull-offs). Page included excerpts of classical music in the solo when playing it live. Steve Vai commented in a September 1998 Guitar World interview:

This one ("Heartbreaker") had the biggest impact on me as a youth. It was defiant, bold, and edgier than hell. It really is the definitive rock guitar solo. [4]

Randy Rhoads performing on stage in 1980 Randy Rhoads (1980).jpg
Randy Rhoads performing on stage in 1980

In 1969, Alvin Lee's lighting fast licks playing at Woodstock was also a prime example of early shredding. [5]

In 1974, the German band Scorpions used their new guitarist Ulrich Roth for their album Fly to the Rainbow , for which the title track features Roth performing "one of the most menacing and powerful whammy-bar dive bombs ever recorded". [1] A year later, Roth's solo guitar playing for the album In Trance would become "the prototype for shred guitar. Everything associated with the genre can be found on this brilliant collection of songs—sweep-picked arpeggios, harmonic minor scales, finger-tapping and jaw-dropping whammy bar abuse". [1]

Eddie Van Halen soloing in 1977 Eddie Van Halan - 77 in New Haven.jpg
Eddie Van Halen soloing in 1977

In 1979, Roth left Scorpions to begin his own power trio, named "Electric Sun". His debut album Earthquake contained "heaps of spellbinding fret gymnastics and nimble-fingered classical workouts." [1] In 1978, Eddie Van Halen released "Eruption", a "blistering aural assault of solo electric guitar" which featured rapid "tapping". Chris Yancik argues that it is this record, above any other, that "spawned the genre of Shred." [6]

Guitar Player 's article "Blast into Hyperspace with the Otherworldly Power of Shred" reviews the book Shred! and states that the pioneers were Ritchie Blackmore, jazz fusion player Al Di Meola and Eddie Van Halen. Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen advanced this style further with the infusion of neo-classical elements. Progressive rock, heavy metal, hard rock, and jazz fusion have all made use of and adapted the style successfully over the years. In general, the phrase "shred guitar" has been traditionally associated with instrumental rock and heavy metal guitarists. This association has become less common now that modern forms of metal have adopted shredding as well. In the 1990s, its mainstream appeal diminished with the rise of grunge and nu metal, both of which eschewed flashy lead guitar solos. Lesser known guitarists like Shawn Lane and Buckethead continued to develop the genre further in the 90s. [7] [8]

In an interview in March 2011, Steve Vai described "shred" as:

The terminology used for someone who can play an instrument, and has such a tremendous amount of technique that what they do just seems completely effortless and absurd. It's like this burst of energy that just comes out in extremely fast tearing kind of playing where the notes actually connect. Shred has to have a particular kind of "tide" to it, I think, that actually gives you that "blow away" factor that makes it impressive, to a certain degree. [9]

Playing style

Yngwie Malmsteen in Barcelona, Spain, 2008 Yngwie Malmsteen 1.jpg
Yngwie Malmsteen in Barcelona, Spain, 2008

Shredding includes difficult guitar techniques such as "sweep, alternate and tremolo picking; string skipping; multi-finger tapping; slurs, [and] trills." [10] Shred guitarists use two- or three-octave scales, triads, or modes, played ascending and descending at a fast tempo. Often such runs are arranged in the form of an intricate sequential pattern, creating a more complex feel.

Guitarists refer to a prepared sequence of notes as a 'lick', which may be incorporated into an otherwise improvised solo, or used for practising. Guitarists often 'trade licks' with each other, sharing such sequences.

The lick can be played by multiple-picking notes (alternate picking), or picking just the first or second note of a string followed by a rapid succession of hammer-ons and/or pull-offs (slurs). Rhythmically, a shredder may include precise usage of syncopation and polyrhythms. Sweep picking is used to play rapid arpeggios across the fretboard (sometimes on all strings). The tapping technique is used to play rapid flourishes of notes or to play arpeggios or scalar patterns using pure legato with no picking (the picking hand is used to "tap" notes on the fretboard). Various techniques are used to perform passages with wide intervals, and to create a flowing legato sound. Some performers utilize complex combinations of tapping, sweeping, and classical-style finger picking. This increases speed by reducing the motion of the plucking hand.


Shred guitar players often use electric solid-body guitars such as Ibanez, Gibson, Fender, Kramer, Kiesel/Carvin, Jackson, Charvel, Schecter and ESP. Some shred guitarists use elaborately-shaped models by B.C. Rich or Dean, as well as modern versions of classic-radical designs like Gibson's Flying V and Explorer models. Tremolo bars (also known as "whammy bars"), which are hinged bridges that can be bent down or up in pitch, are an important part of shred playing, as they permit the "dive bombing" effect and many sounds which are not possible with a fixed-bridge instrument.

Guitars with double-cutaways give performers easier access to the higher frets, allowing extended room for the fretting hand to get extended reach onto the higher notes of the fretboard. Some shred guitarists, such as Scorpions' Ulrich Roth, have used custom-made tremolo bars and developed modified instruments, such as Roth's "Sky Guitar, that would greatly expand his instrumental range, enabling him to reach notes previously reserved in the string world for cellos and violins." [1]

Most shred guitar players use a range of effects such as distortion and audio compression units, both of which increase sustain and facilitate the performance of shred techniques such as tapping, hammer-ons, and pull-offs. These and other effects units, such as delay effects are also used to create a unique tone. Shred-style guitarists often use high-gain vacuum tube amplifiers such as Marshall, Carvin, Peavey, Soldano, Mesa Boogie, Orange Amplification, Laney, Hughes & Kettner and Randall. To facilitate the use of audio feedback effects with the guitar, shred guitarists use high gain settings, distortion pedals and high on-stage volume.

In media

In 2003, Guitar One Magazine voted Michael Angelo Batio the fastest shredder of all time. [11] [12] In the same year, Guitar One voted Chris Impellitteri the second fastest shredder of all time followed by Yngwie Malmsteen at third. [11] [12]

In 2011, Guitar World magazine focused on shredding outside the heavy metal music genre with an article discussing the magazine's Top 5 Shredding Bluegrass songs. The list included songs by instrumentalists Tony Rice, Josh Williams, Bryan Sutton, Chris Thile and David Grier. [13] Music Radar's list of the top 20 greatest shred guitarists of time featured Al Di Meola, John Petrucci and Steve Vai as the top three, respectively.[ citation needed ] Guitar World ranked Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy , Van Halen Van Halen , and Ozzy Osbourne Blizzard of Ozz (featuring Randy Rhoads on guitar), as the top three shred albums of all time, respectively. [14]

In 2017, Jawbone Press released the book Shredders!: The Oral History of Speed Guitar (and More) by author Greg Prato, which explored the entire history of shred guitar. The book featured a foreword by Alex Lifeson and an afterword by Uli Jon Roth, and featured all new interviews with Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan, Paul Gilbert, George Lynch, Kirk Hammett, Michael Schenker, Ace Frehley, Guthrie Govan, and Alexi Laiho, among others. [15]

Related Research Articles

Yngwie Malmsteen Swedish guitarist and composer

Yngwie Johan Malmsteen is a Swedish guitarist, songwriter, composer, and bandleader. Malmsteen first became known in the 1980s for his neoclassical playing style in heavy metal, and has released 21 studio albums in a career spanning over 40 years. In 2009, Time magazine rated Malmsteen as number 9 among the 11 greatest electric guitar players of all time.

Sweep picking

Sweep picking is a guitar playing technique. When sweep picking, the guitarist plays single notes on consecutive strings with a 'sweeping' motion of the pick, while using the fretting hand to produce a specific series of notes that are fast and fluid in sound. Both hands essentially perform an integral motion in unison to achieve the desired effect.

Tapping Guitar playing technique

Tapping, also called tap style (tapstyle), touch-style, and two-handed tapping, is a guitar playing technique where a string is fretted and set into vibration as part of a single motion of being tapped onto the fretboard, with either hand, as opposed to the standard technique of fretting with one hand and picking with the other. Tapping is the primary technique intended for some instruments such as the Chapman Stick, and is the alternative method for the Warr Guitar and others. Tapped passages incorporate the techniques of hammer-on and pull-off, but with both hands freed to produce notes. Some players rely extensively or exclusively on tapping.

<i>Rising Force</i> 1984 studio album by Yngwie Malmsteen

Rising Force is the first studio album by guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, released on 5 March 1984 through Polydor Records. It reached No. 14 on the Swedish albums chart, No. 60 on the US Billboard 200, and received a nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 1986 Grammy Awards. The album is regarded as a landmark release in the shred and neoclassical metal genres.

Steve Vai American guitarist, songwriter, and producer

Steven Siro Vai is an American guitarist, composer, singer, songwriter, and producer. A three-time Grammy Award winner and fifteen-time nominee, Vai started his music career in 1978 at the age of eighteen as a transcriptionist for Frank Zappa, and played in Zappa's band from 1980 to 1983. He embarked on a solo career in 1983 and has released eight solo albums to date. He has recorded and toured with Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth, and Whitesnake, as well as recording with artists such as Public Image Ltd, Mary J. Blige, Spinal Tap, and Ozzy Osbourne. Additionally, Vai has toured with live-only acts G3, Zappa Plays Zappa, and the Experience Hendrix tour, as well as headlining international tours.

Lead guitar, also known as solo guitar, is a musical part for a guitar in which the guitarist plays melody lines, instrumental fill passages, guitar solos, and occasionally, some riffs within a song structure. The lead is the featured guitar, which usually plays single-note-based lines or double-stops. In rock, heavy metal, blues, jazz, punk, fusion, some pop, and other music styles, lead guitar lines are usually supported by a second guitarist who plays rhythm guitar, which consists of accompaniment chords and riffs.

Neoclassical metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that is heavily influenced by classical music and usually features very technical playing, consisting of elements borrowed from both classical and speed metal music. Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore pioneered the subgenre by merging classical melodies and blues rock. Later, Yngwie Malmsteen became one of the most notable musicians in the subgenre, and contributed greatly to the development of the style in the 1980s. Other notable players in the genre are Randy Rhoads, John Petrucci, Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore, Uli Jon Roth, Stéphan Forté, Wolf Hoffmann, Timo Tolkki, and Marty Friedman.

John Petrucci American musician

John Peter Petrucci is an American guitarist, composer and producer. He is best known as a founding member of the progressive metal band Dream Theater. He produced or co-produced all of Dream Theater's albums from Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999) to Distance Over Time (2019), and has been the sole producer of the band's albums released since A Dramatic Turn of Events (2011). Petrucci has also released two solo albums: Suspended Animation (2005) and Terminal Velocity (2020).

Jason Becker American musician

Jason Eli Becker is an American virtuoso musician, songwriter and composer. At the age of 16, he became part of the Shrapnel Records-produced duo Cacophony with his friend Marty Friedman. They released the albums Speed Metal Symphony in 1987 and Go Off! in 1988. Cacophony disbanded in 1989 and Becker began doing solo work, having released his first album Perpetual Burn in 1988, also through Shrapnel. He later joined David Lee Roth's band and recorded one album with him, A Little Ain't Enough.

Herman Li Musical artist

Herman Li is a Hong Kong-born British musician who is one of two lead guitarists for the power metal band DragonForce. Li has played with the band based in England since it was formed in 1999 by Li along with Sam Totman.

Michael Angelo Batio American heavy metal guitarist and columnist

Michael Angelo Batio, also known as Michael Angelo, Mike Batio or MAB, is an American heavy metal guitarist and columnist from Chicago, Illinois. He was the lead guitarist for the Los Angeles-based glam metal band Nitro in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique that employs alternating downward and upward strokes in a continuous fashion. If the technique is performed at high speed on a single string or course voicing the same note, it may be referred to as "tremolo picking" or "double picking".

Uli Jon Roth German guitarist (born 1954)

"Uli Jon Roth" was born Ulrich Roth on 18 December 1954 and is a German guitarist who became famous for his work with Scorpions and is one of the earliest contributors to the neoclassical metal genre. He is also the founder of Sky Academy and designer of the Sky Guitar. He is the older brother of fellow guitarist and artist Zeno Roth (1956–2018).

Dan Donegan American musician

Daniel Joseph Donegan is an American musician who currently serves as the lead and rhythm guitarist/keyboardist for heavy metal band Disturbed.

Economy picking is a guitar picking technique designed to maximize picking efficiency by combining alternate picking and sweep picking; it may also incorporate the use of legato in the middle of alternate picking passages as way to achieve higher speed with less pick strokes. Specifically:

Rusty Cooley is an American guitarist, known for his highly refined guitar technique. He is regarded as one of the fastest guitarists in the United States and a master of the shredding technique of guitar. Guitar Player magazine called him "the leading light of the post-Malmsteen shred-volution."

Caprice No. 5 (Paganini)

Caprice No. 5 is one of 24 pieces composed by virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini in the early 19th century. The piece is known for its incredible speed and extremely high technical difficulty. Paganini is said to have been able to play it on one string, but there is no evidence to support or refute this.

Chris Brooks (guitarist)

Chris Brooks is an Australian author, rock, metal and fusion guitarist most noted for his debut instrumental album The Master Plan and his subsequent work with members of Yngwie Malmsteen, Black Sabbath, Lana Lane, and fellow Australians LORD.

Jacky Vincent British guitarist

Jacky Vincent is an English musician who was the lead guitarist and backing vocalist of the rock band Falling in Reverse from its formation until his departure in 2015 and was the guitarist of the power metal band Cry Venom. Since then, he has concentrated on his solo career and teaching. Vincent has two solo albums: Star X Speed Story, released in 2013 through Shrapnel Records that came third in the Guitar World 2013 readers poll for Best Shred album, and Life Imitating Art released in 2018. Jacky won the Alternative Press Guitarist of the Year award in 2012 and came third in the Guitar World "Best Shredder" readers pool awards in 2013.

Heavy metal guitar

Heavy metal guitar is the use of highly-amplified electric guitar in heavy metal. Heavy metal guitar playing is rooted in the guitar playing styles developed in 1960s-era blues rock and psychedelic rock,and folk harmonic traditions and it uses a massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos and overall loudness. The electric guitar and the sonic power that it projects through amplification has historically been the key element in heavy metal. The heavy metal guitar sound comes from a combined use of high volumes and heavy distortion.


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  13. "5 Shredding Bluegrass Songs - Page 1". 2011-08-17. Retrieved 2015-03-17.
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